Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure. You know, sometimes I couldn't help but refer to the game as Trial & Error: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure. Sounds rather harsh, doesn't it' You look at screenshots of this game and imagine fluffy bunny rabbits and adorable characters. You don't imagine pain and suffering, followed by even more exceptional amounts of pain from a dead skeleton who still likes to play music; you imagine nice things, and nice experiences. So how can this seemingly beautiful little game turn nasty'
Well, again, saying "nasty" is harsh. I don't want to paint an ugly picture of this game so early on. Heck, the game has already managed to be overlooked by most people, so me opening up this review with foul intent is hardly a helping hand. Essentially, the game isn't nasty really, it's just a few things that the game insists on presenting to you that don't work too well.
I'll start with an example which was very harshly stated above - the trial and error. Is Zack & Wiki an adventure game' Yes. Do adventures games not always come with the necessary evil of trial and error' Yes. Does the reviewer look like an idiot for highlighting trial and error as major flaw' Ye' well er, no, actually.
I do accept that trial and error is part and parcel of an adventure game. It is a necessary evil, but the problem with Zack & Wiki is that the game actually enforces trial and error. Instead of avoiding areas in the game which would abolish trial and error, the developers have embraced it, and made it one of the most non-fun points of the game. You can, for example, die off of many elements in Zack & Wiki. Sometimes you'll die in a situation where you would expect to die, while in others you'll die because you simply didn't notice that element of risk present. Interacting with something seemingly harmless in the environment can equal death, and death is usually the main thing that happens in such situations, rather than Zack simply going unconscious for a second. The game wants you to have to do things again and again, and quite a lot.
There is a counter however, and that goes in the form of a Platinum Ticket which can be purchased via Granny (a voodoo rabbit, thing, sort of). The ticket will revive you back in place where you were before you died. Great, right' Not really. One of the main things you're targeting for during a mission is the end-score. If you manage to solve the puzzles without any hindrance you'll be given a good score, where-as if you died and had to use tickets your score will decrease.
This may all seem like a big fuss about nothing, but really, the game does seem to overlook obvious options in telling a player what they can and cannot do, and opts to just equal your death instead. If you're intending on going for high scores during missions you'll need to avoid using tickets, and so if you die you'll need to start from the beginning and thus do the same things again over and over until you suss out how to solve the puzzle you were previously stuck on, without snuffing it.
It's not a game killing flaw, but when the trial and error - while not completely removed - could be reduced, and isn't, then it feels like the game is purposely trying to cheese you off. But as said it won't prevent you from enjoying this game most of the time, which is definitely a good thing because there's much on offer to enjoy here.
The game doesn't do very much to introduce you to the world or the characters of Zack & Wiki apart from the things it really needs to, though that isn't a bad thing at all. At the start of the game you're thrust into an airplane which gives you an overview of the two characters you'll be seeing the most of (I'll give you three guesses) and lets you see how the base controls work. You can point at the screen with the Wii-remote and click on objects for Zack to inspect or interact with. After a while the plane you're in takes damage and you begin to fall, to get out of the plane you need to pull the lever which works by you pulling down on the remote like a lever. It's pretty clever and serves as a small introduction on how you'll be twisting, turning and shaking the remote in time to come.
Once you eventually land you have to solve another relatively simple puzzle which then leads you to a golden chest. On the chest is a ghost, but it is here that Wiki explains how he can be used as a bell if you shake the remote, which in turn will remove the ghost. It's in this chest that you find the skull-head of the legendary pirate Barbaros. Once you speak to him it becomes clear that he wishes for you to find the remaining pieces of his body, and this serves as the main bulk of the game for you.
After the first introduction mission you and Barbaros are taken to the Sea Rabbits hideout. The Sea Rabbits serve as your faction, with each pirate rabbit offering information on aspects of the game (e.g. game progress, hints & tips, and how to use in-game items). The most important function in the hideout is the map as this is where you select your missions and see what levels are available. You can re-do previous mission as many times as you want, which is good if you want to get a higher score than your last attempt, or if you're after some secret treasures (most of which become available after the main-game is complete).
There are quite a lot of missions to take part in, with some that will take perhaps hours to solve, but also shorter ones to better accommodate the game's style. All of the missions seem to be very well designed and some can be completed in more than one manner, which adds some depth to Zack & Wiki. There are times, however, where you'll get into situations you can't get out of. For example, you may have moved an item before you were supposed to and so prevented the whole puzzle from being solved. Sadly the game doesn't make you aware of this unless you manually contact Granny' again proving that the developers have ignored the easier option of just preventing you from making impossible situations happen in the first place.
To solve a lot of puzzles in the game you'll need to use items. The items don't come in the form of readily made saws and hammers though, but rather as animals. By using Wiki as a bell you can change animals into usable items, for example a frog will turn into a bomb, and a worm into a straw. Figuring out how to reach animals and then what to use them for is half the fun in a mission, with another heap of fun added when you use the animal-items to interact with something. Well fun, that is, if it works properly.
All the ways you're supposed to use the Wii-remote are explained on-screen, but sometimes it simply won't work even if you're doing exactly as the picture shows. Most of the remote interaction works okay, but some things just serve to cause anger for the player. There's nothing worse than seeing yourself doing something exactly as instructed, only for it to not work properly. I'm unsure whether it's the game not explaining controls properly, or if the Wii-remote simply isn't sophisticated enough to acknowledge the actions you're supposed to be doing. It could even be down to the player, but if that's the case surely the developers would have designed the action so that the majority of players could manage it' Another area of the game where the controls aren't exactly spot-on is when you encounter the dreaded Bonelich.
Those who have already played Zack & Wiki will probably know the Bonelich all too well. He's a music-loving skeleton guy who will reward you with a chest if you can beat his music game. The game itself sounds simple: ring the Wii-remote when the bell hits the target. Unfortunately, while some people have sussed it early, shaking the remote on-time doesn't always get a result and can even seem to not work at all. There are even occasions when you shake the remote only to see the game hasn't acknowledged it at all, thus leading to you shaking the remote even more and getting angrier with each attempt. Needless to say the remote-strap comes in use with this guy. On the plus side if he annoys you too much you don't have to complete his games, as he serves no purpose to the main quest. However, if you like to complete your games 100% (like me) then you have to keep attempting until you finally find a remote configuration that works. Pointing out the Bonelich may seem silly, but it does serve to show how the game doesn't utilise the Wii-remote as well it should, sadly. (For future reference to anyone who attempts his challenges, I personally found holding the remote totally vertical and pushing it down with my index finger quickly on the notes worked best, though it's by no means a perfect method)
Getting angry at the Bonelich and the game doesn't last too long, as gazing upon the visuals is enough to make you happy again. Zack & Wiki employs the same style as seen in Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, with its cel-shaded mastery. I'm aware that some gamers find this visual style too child-like and stupid, but to them I state that any form of graphics that can look flawless and work without errors is surely better than visuals which may look nice on paper, but run poorly in motion. Besides, like Okami, Zack & Wiki is a game that is pretty much built for cel-shaded visuals, you can't imagine it any other way.
The look of the characters in Zack & Wiki couldn't be accomplished as well as it is already in the game, and the story itself benefits from this. The game doesn't have any voice-acting (apart from the odd grunt) but instead uses captions with text to read. There isn't much to read, mind, as the game mainly focuses on gameplay with the main and longest cutscenes shown at the early and later stages of the game. As stories go it isn't hugely in-depth or serious, but that's the whole point. It's a nice little story that fits with the game perfectly, and above all it doesn't interfere with gameplay. What more can you ask for'
Oh, you ask for music and sounds that equal the same level of achievement the visuals display' Well I can also happily confirm that to be true too. Each mission has its own unique tone, and the short-noises and sound effects given by characters and animals do the game great justice. It all fits in superbly well.
Superbly well eh' I cannot deny that the game is a perfect-picture, offering a great point & click adventure on a console which can certainly do justice to the - often thought - long dead genre. Zack & Wiki proves that developers can take advantage of what the Wii offers to give games which can challenge our minds but also make the whole experience fun.
Sure, while Zack & Wiki has its fair share of problems, most of them can be balanced out and eventually avoided with enough determination. Once you've played through and beat the game once you won't need to worry about trial and error so much, and if you just keep at it the Bonelich will not prevail!
There's plenty to see and do, and if you particularly enjoy adventure games then Zack & Wiki is a definite must buy. It's harder to recommend the game to someone not interested in adventure games, but I'm still fairly confident that there's something unique and fun to find here. Give it a try.
8 / 10